I’ve been reading Naomi Klein’s “No Logo.” The tagline is: “Taking Aim at Brand Bullies.” Naomi Klein shows how big business has systemically hollowed out the American middle class, ruthlessly slashing salaries, people, prices, until all that is left is a demoralized workforce and people on food stamps with no safety net. This happens in nonprofits too. Today a woman told me she’s being considered for a job that pays $12.00 per hour. Another woman told me about getting a job that pays $35,000 per year, and being happy to get that. Klein writes how US businesses created similar sociopathic business models in other countries like China, the Philippines, Vietnam, etc. Her book will make you never want to shop in a big box store ever again.
The reason I find this fascinating is that it used to be “Us versus Them,” where us was the “little people,” and them was big business. Now I think we need to include nonprofits in the category of “big business.” Save the Children just made $455 million in 2008, according to Guidestar.org. The nonprofit industry represents $1 Trillion dollars in America every year. But is this trickling down to “the little people”? No.
Now Ralph Nader just came out with a book called “Only the Super Rich Can Save Us.” He writes, “Why not include the super rich in our revolution? Let them lead, let them use their money to create worldwide change!” In Nader’s fictional book, Warren Buffet calls a meeting in Hawaii of all of the world’s richest people, and asks them to help save the world.
And now it looks like life is imitating art, because Bill Gates and Warren Buffet just got together and asked the world’s billionaires to donate half of their money to charitable causes.
From the AP’s Josh Funk on the Huffington Post, “The handful of billionaires approached so far have embraced the campaign, said Stonesifer, a close friend of Gates who offered to speak about the effort. Four wealthy couples have already announced their pledges, including Los Angeles philanthropists Eli and Edythe Broad, Gerry and Marguerite Lenfest of Philadelphia, John and Ann Doerr of Menlo Park, Calif., and John and Tasha Mortgridge of San Jose, Calif.”
Buffet himself has promised to donate 99% of his $46 billion fortune to charity when he dies. Gates has done something similar, and most of their money will go to foundations to disperse as they see fit.
Q: “In the book, the character Max Palevsky, venture capitalist and computer technology pioneer, has an obsession with what is called civic anomie — or, as you describe, the failure of citizens to exert even minor efforts to combat injustices they perceive as harming them. When and how did Americans become so complacent?”
A: Part of it is growing up with many hours of television that empties the sidewalks and the town meetings and city council meetings. Then there are the long commutes, low pay and often having to take a job and a half; people don’t have time. Also there are very few civic skills and civic experiences provided in our schools. If people don’t spend time on their civic responsibilities, they don’t spend time on making a democracy function. They feel powerless. They don’t like what they see — politicians are in low repute, major necessities of the country are not addressed, major possibilities like efficient and renewable energy over the years until recently are not addressed and people get frustrated. Many become discouraged and they realize because they haven’t put in the time in organizing the neighborhoods and all that, they don’t have much power with city hall. That turns into apathy and resignation and withdrawal.
Q: In light of the near collapse of the financial system and the scandal involving corporate bailouts and large executive bonuses, if Americans were to ever snap out of this anomie, wouldn’t this be the time? Do you see any signs of significant civic uprising?
A: No, because the money is not there. I keep emphasizing the resources. If 10 multibillionaires of advanced age really want to turn the healthcare system around and they put a billion dollars in meticulously organizing the 435 congressional districts for full Medicare for all and exposing even more the horrors of the present system of so many people dying who can’t afford health insurance, we would get it. What is a billion dollars for a group of billionaires who together are worth $70 billion? That’s the biggest single message of the book: You have to have smarts, good people, good strategies, good timing — but little happens if there is no money.
As we speak, 2,000 lobbyists are coursing over Congress from the drug industry, the health insurance companies and the hospital chains. They are working full time to try to get their way, and there isn’t one full-time lobbyist for the most popular reform — single-payer, full Medicare for all — on Capitol Hill. So you can multiply that — military budget, preferential taxes for the rich and the powerful, lack of attention to public service repair and modernization of infrastructure. There is almost nobody there, no citizens organized back in the congressional districts.
This is why we have to be good fundraisers for our causes. Because without the money, nothing happens. We need to be empowered advocates and fundraisers to help people understand that they do have power and they CAN make change.